In a scene from Nathaniel Mellor’s 2010 video, Ourhouse Episode 1 – Games, the patriarchal character Daddy emerges from underwater. He stands in the center of a small indoor swimming pool squinting at his two sons as they hover hesitantly at the edge. The sons have a letter for him from council services. Not pleased by the call from bureaucracy, Daddy yells for the letter, which one son throws towards him. The letter becomes soaked and torn falling into the pool, but Daddy reads it anyways while submerging himself underwater.
In another scene, Daddy is mesmerized by a slug. He examines it crawling slowly along the side of a fence. When approached by one of his sons, he yells, “Go away, I’m writing.”
Reading letters underwater and writing morphed into an act of perception are just two examples of the small, absurd moments that can be plucked out of the work of British-born, Amsterdam-based, Mellors. These illogically subtle moments give the current Front Room exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art, which also features work by mixed-media Baltimore-based artist Jimmy Joe Roche, mysterious intrigue.
Jimmy Joe Roche, Greater Black Astral Dripper, 2013, Installation at the BMA; Courtesy of Jimmy Joe Roche and RARE Gallery, New York / © 2013 Jimmy Joe Roche/ Photography by Mitro Hood.
Upon first look, the works of Mellors and Roche seem to be paired together purely for aesthetic reasons. Bright neons, sinuous shapes and textures, glitches and pixels abound. The largest and most confrontational in color and craft is Roche’s Great Alaskan Meta Dripper (2013). This is what twelve-foot party streamers would look like if an abstract expressionist robot from the future and an avid club-kid joined forces. Spray-painted hot pink, gold, and acid yellow computer-generated cut outs are intricately woven together to mimic the shape of a Rorschach test. In the next room, Roche shows another Rorschach form (Greater Black Astral Dripper, 2013), this one cut from aluminum instead of paper. Although smaller in size, the colors and shapes make for an equally dizzying impression.
Roche’s intricate sculptures are compelling – each weave, each detail expertly crafted. The calculated precision of these “Dripper” pieces clashes with his slapstick self-portraits, which are on display in an adjacent room. Here, a pair of photographs shows the artist dressed as a creepy white-collar worker (Whoops and Baseball, 2012) and a staged video shows him as an inebriated clown giving a cheesy peace sign (Peaching Out, 2011). These pieces interfere with the otherwise frenetic momentum that is present in his sculptures.
Nathaniel Mellors, The Saprophage, Before and After The Saprophage,Saprophagic Landscape #2, 2013, Installation at the BMA; Courtesy the Nathaniel Mellors & Monitor, Rome; Matt's Gallery, London & Galerie Diana Stigter, Amsterdam / Photography by Mitro Hood.
In relation, Mellor’s off-screen cast-off assemblages, which are improvised using chicken wire, wooden beams and plaster, then spray painted for a multi-colored tie dye effect are equally as impeding to the show’s frenzied pace. One sculpture with a piece of white cloth hosts a small projection of out-takes from The Saprophage (2012). The actual video is shown on the adjacent wall; it features footage shot from an iPhone, and deconstructs into pixels at times while following absurdist characters bemoaning a looming cultural apocalypse. The dialogue is tinged with social satire and forced weirdness. It lacks the naturally uncanny moments that crop up in Ourhouse Episode 1 – Games that allow Mellors’ talent for writing non-sequitur narrative scripts to truly show through.
It is not until I left the Front Room exhibition space and turned the corner, to be confronted by a shimmering gold Andy Warhol piece (Rorschach, 1984), did the underlying conceptual premise of the two artists’ work begin to fall into place. Alluding to the same form as Roche’s “Dripper” sculptures, Warhol’s piece commanded time and attention, to see the specks of gold glitter, the fluid black Rorschach ink pattern, and the neck-straining scale. The presence of this Warhol piece is an ironic contradiction to his infamous “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes” quote.
By employing iPhone recordings, quickly rendered effects, machinated fabrications and speedy warps, Roche and Mellors are perpetuating the veracity of Warhol’s sentiment. The hurried pace of their assemblages, sculptures, videos and photographs literally feel as if they will fade away into schizophrenic oblivion at any moment. The trick is to pinpoint the subtle moments and smaller details within the works – the glitches within the glitches. To realize that there is a world beyond a mere fifteen minutes of fame – a world where seeing can be a form of writing, and reading can be achieved underwater.
(Image on top: Jimmy Joe Roche, Great Alaskan Meta Dripper, 2013, Installation at the BMA ; © 2013 Jimmy Joe Roche / Courtesy of Jimmy Joe Roche and RARE Gallery, New York / Photography by Mitro Hood.)